Wendy Wolf: The Story Behind "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention"

February 7, 2012

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Wendy Wolf

Last spring, scholar Manning Marable was poised to release his life’s work: a monumental biography of Malcolm X. Marable, a longtime professor of African-American history at Columbia University, died of pneumonia just days before the book was published.

As Marable’s editor at Viking Books, Wendy Wolf helped him whittle down 20 years of meticulously gathered material into Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, a biography that has been hailed as “revealing and prodigiously researched” and one of the 10 best books of 2011. It also has stirred controversy and praise for shedding new light on the life and times of Malcolm X.

Wolf talks about both Malcolm X and Manning Marable as she presents "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention," the Martin Luther King Jr. lecture at Elmhurst College.

Marable devoted much of his career to uncovering provocative new details about the life of the iconic black leader and activist. The book draws from Malcolm X’s letters and diaries, surveillance conducted by the FBI and New York City Police Department, and interviews with his contemporaries, including Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Capturing Marable’s years of research in a single book was a daunting task for Marable and Wolf, associate publisher and editorial director of nonfiction at Viking, where she also has been an editor since 1994.

“With a life there is a decision of how much to say and how much not to say,” Wolf said in a recent National Public Radio interview. “How much do you chronologically put into the book? How many days do you recount? How many days do you miss?”

At Elmhurst College, Wolf discusses what links Malcolm X and Marable, “two men who came from such disparate worlds—the one a man of the streets propelled for most of his life by anger, the other a warm and generous scholar—and how one life gives insights into the other.”

Recorded Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at the Frick Center, Elmhurst College.